B.C. Legion facing holiday eviction from building it helped build on land it donated

Click to play video: 'B.C. legion receives holiday eviction notice from housing society' B.C. legion receives holiday eviction notice from housing society
A longstanding B.C. legion whose members have been giving back to the community for decades says it's been handed a New Year's Eve eviction notice. Paul Johnson explains why the Kitsilano hall is getting the boot and whether a half century old handshake agreement will allow its veterans to stay. – Dec 24, 2021

A Vancouver branch of the Royal Canadian Legion says it’s facing a holiday eviction notice — from a building on land it originally bought, from a building it helped pay to build.

The Shalom Branch 178 was formed 75 years ago and has been active in the community since then, raising money for numerous causes and supporting veterans.

In 1973 it bought a piece of land at Maple Street and West 6th Avenue, which it gifted to a new housing society along with $1 million to help build a 106-unit low-income housing development, according to Robert Underhill, second vice-president of the Legion’s B.C.-Yukon Command

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Underhill said that initiative founded on a key agreement.

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“There was never, ever a lease created. It was on a handshake that the Legion, because of its donation to get the building they would be able to occupy the hall here for absolutely no fee,” he said.

Nearly 50 years later, Underhill said the society began demanding rent from the Legion. When the organization declined to pay, he said they were hit with a notice to vacate the property by Dec. 31.

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“Based on what we know about the agreement, the branch did not pay the rent,” he said. “They have been seeking to try and get some kind of agreement or go back to the original agreement, even better, and the housing society isn’t even discussing it.”

The society that runs the housing project was originally named the Shalom Branch #178 Building Society. Its original board members have long since moved on, and the society has been renamed the “Maple Crest Housing Society.”

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Global News attempted to contact the society through Jeff Simons, listed as its business contact on its legal paperwork filed with the province.

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No phone number was listed with the organization, and Simons was not home when a reporter visited his his Richmond home, nor did he respond to a request for comment.

Vancouver property lawyer Ashley Syer said the dispute highlights the risks of handshake deals.

“An oral contract is still a contract, it’s just harder to prove,” she said.

She added that the Legion can point to its five decade history of not paying rent for the space, but still would face challenges.

“It is an interesting situation where you have a gift of property and a gift of money to get something up and running, with a certain understanding,” she said.

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“But it’s one of the dangers of not papering an agreement like that, is that down the road where you have maybe this change maybe in board membership or maybe in priorities of an organization. If you don’t have the paperwork to back it up, you run the risk of this handshake deal maybe not being so meaningful anymore.”

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Katherine Jardine, who has lived in the housing development for the past eight years, said she was heartbroken over the eviction order.

“I have been so distraught for the last few weeks over the situation,” she said.

“Especially when you know that the legion built this place and give a place for people like me that are low income or disabled, people who really need a place they can afford. I’m sorry, this is a disgrace.”

For its part, the Legion branch has no plans to meet the eviction deadline.

Underhill said the branch has written to Attorney General David Eby, who is also the MLA for the district, to ask him to intervene.

“I don’t think its very above board when you’re throwing a tenant out who is trying to help the community,” he said.

“It’s just wrong.”

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